Call to root out 'blessers' driving HIV

During reproductive health month, Right to Care, an HIV/Aids not-for-profit organisation has called on South African healthcare workers to actively implement and support strategies that target people at risk and ‘blessers’ who are driving the HIV epidemic among young women.

Prior to the eighth African Conference of Sexual and Reproductive Health (12 – 15 February in Johannesburg), Ms Hermina Manjekana Dyeshana, programme specialist for Maternal, Newborn, Child & Women’s Health; Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission & Nutrition at Right to Care says, “The conference theme: Advancing the Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights of Girls and Women in Africa requires us to also focus on the “missing “men who are driving the epidemic.

They are known as the players, plyers, sugar daddies or blessers. They enter into relationships with young girls as a transaction: you give me unprotected sex and I give you money, a cell phone, airtime, new clothes, make up, school fees, a car, whatever you or your family might need. The blessers are normally older men who have concurrent sexual partners in their own age group and are sometimes also married. These men are driving HIV transmission, and compounding an already massive public healthcare problem.”

Dyeshana says, “We know that there are large numbers of older HIV-infected men who have multiple concurrent partners. Very few know their HIV status and many opt not to be tested at all. Those who are recently infected with HIV have extremely high viral loads. Tragically, they are not entering the health system to get support or treatment. This is a major concern.”

Dyeshana continues, “However, we cannot alienate the blessers as we need to bring them in for HIV testing and other screening and treat them accordingly.

Right to Care is involved in programmes to reach men in places where they frequent and are comfortable, for example at popular social spots clubs, entertainment areas, hostels, taxi ranks and at their places of work. Making condoms available and dispelling myths around condom use is also a large part of our work.”

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